The Oklahoma Sooners will start the 2018 season against the Florida Atlantic Owls with a new quarterback replacing Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. They probably won’t have much time to acclimate to new signal-caller Kyler Murray.
Lane Kiffin’s Owls scored points in bunches last season, averaging more than 40 per game, which ranked eighth nationally. They ended the season ranked sixth nationally in Offensive S&P+, a measure of offensive efficiency. Running back Devin Singletary netted nearly 2,000 yards on the ground in that offense a year ago, and he’s back for more in his junior year.
If the struggles of OU’s defense last season are any indication, the Sooners may need every point they can get in their season opener against the upset-minded Owls.
Florida Atlantic at Oklahoma
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 1 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Oklahoma -21
Three Things to Watch
1. A tale of two Murrays
Senior QB Kyler Murray is playing in the first of what Sooner Nation hopes will be 15 games in his only remaining season on the gridiron. How much of OU’s new-look offense with Murray at the helm does head coach Lincoln Riley want to show versus FAU?
On the other side of the ball, Kenneth Murray spent the offseason dwelling on a mistake-filled performance in the Rose Bowl against Georgia’s devastating ground game. OU’s coaches have raved about the sophomore middle linebacker since preseason camp opened, and he’ll have to play a major role versus FAU’s dynamic option-centric attack.
2. Does FAU have a QB?
Jason Driskel didn’t generate much fanfare last season, but he put together a solid campaign at quarterback for FAU. More importantly, he avoided big mistakes in the passing game, throwing four interceptions the entire year.
Kiffin is picking from an intriguing group of QB candidates, including a former Sooner in Chris Robison. SMU transfer Rafe Peavey and ex-Florida State Seminole De’Andre Johnson are also being evaluated by Kiffin and his 25-year-old offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis Jr. (No word on if Weis’ pops has added his two cents.) The winner of the competition may be the one who best accentuates Singletary and the running attack.
3. OU up the middle
FAU’s offense revolves in large part around an iso run play up the middle that was key to Baylor’s scorched-earth attack under the Art Briles regime. If the Sooners can’t handle it with their front six defenders, the Owls will run the same play relentlessly until defensive coordinator Mike Stoops adjusts. That will subsequently open up opportunities for FAU to hit on big plays off of run-pass option calls.
The bottom line is that FAU’s offense versus OU’s defense could come down to which team holds firm in the middle of the field.
Lincoln Riley probably wishes his team was facing more of a tune-up in game one than the high-flying Owls. The combination of Kiffin’s offensive acumen and a bevy of talented castoffs from major programs will force OU’s defense to prove it has rebounded from an ugly campaign in 2017.
Even so, the Sooners show no real signs of slowing down on the ground this year, and they should be able to push around FAU’s defensive line. That likely gives OU the edge in this matchup.
If this game is close late in the second half, though, the anxiousness emanating from Owen Field will ratchet up quickly.
Prediction: Oklahoma 42, Florida Atlantic 24
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.